Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

The application of the term novel to MODERN CHIVALRY is almost incorrect; it is, rather, a bulky, episodic narrative that is almost completely devoid of plot. The real importance of the novel lies in the fact that it heralded the appearance of something new in American fiction: satire. It is a brilliant and ironic inquiry into the faults and weaknesses of political activities during the first years of the United States, written by a man who had taken part in the incidents of those years, including the Whiskey Rebellion. Like all great satires, it was written, not with the aim of simply finding fault, but with the aim of improving what the author saw as weaknesses in the persons and institutions of mankind. Currish as the satire is, and unkind as it sometimes appears to be to the Irish as they are seen in the person of Teague O’Regan, the book is also humorous in a quizzical and often reflective way. Among other things, MODERN CHIVALRY brought the spirit of Cervantes, Rabelais, and Montaigne to the American frontier.

Hugh Henry Brackenridge was neither a writer who participated in politics nor a politician who wrote as an avocation; his writing and his politics were two sides of the same coin, a passionate involvement in the affairs of his time. Brackenridge sought nothing less than the creation of the new American democracy, and, along with it, the new American literature.

Loosely modeled after DON QUIXOTE, MODERN CHIVALRY provides a satirical record of Brackenridge’s political and social attitudes. The almost haphazard plot sequences and general unevenness in quality reflect the casual,...

(The entire section is 676 words.)